Making a splash: South West London gets ready for annual boat race


The Great River Race passes through Wandsworth, Hammersmith and Richmond.


Thousands of competitors and spectators from around the world are bracing themselves for tomorrow’s Great River Race, London’s annual River Marathon. 
The race has come a long way from its humble beginnings. In 1987, inspired by the film ‘A Man for All Seasons’, a Waterman’s Shallop was rowed from Hampton Court to the Tower of London for charity.
Following the original event’s popularity the same boat was pitted against more than twenty others a year later in a race which saw entries ranging from Viking Longboats to Chinese Dragonboats. Much has changed since then, not least of all the course itself, which now runs a gruelling twenty one miles from Millwall to Ham.   
Over three hundred competitors will take to the water at midday, many being international teams that have come to enjoy a truly unique event.  
Deputy Chairman of the Great River Committee, Roger Mutton, has played a huge part in the event’s unrivalled success. Commenting on how far the contest has come, Mr Mutton recalled the collective feeling early on that ‘this could be a bigger event than just one boat going down the river’.
“People come here to have a good time,” he said.
“Generally speaking we bring in a lot of revenue for the borough.”
The race is usually a blend of competition and comedy with prizes being doled out for fancy dress as well as boating prowess.   
Jodie Newstead, representing Dartmouth and competing for the fifth consecutive year, always looks forward to the day.
“The best thing about it is the atmosphere. It’s very friendly and everybody sort of mixes in together,” she said.
The object for many is still to become the ‘National Boat Champion’.  Start times are staggered based on the relative speed of the boats with the Dragonboats receiving the highest handicap.
Local resident Fraser Gregory, 24, sees the day as a great way of getting the community together. Having lived in Ham all his life, he has been able to enjoy the finish for the last four years.
“It’s always exciting at the end. The food, live music and general buzz make the day really special,” he said.
Previous years have seen a whole host of celebrities attend to fire the cannon, a ceremonial duty that marks the beginning of the race. This year will be no exception with Paralympic gold medal winner Baroness Grey Thompson set to get the race underway. With supporters and competitors flocking from all around the world, it promises to be an exciting occasion.  
Photo courtesy of AndyRobertsPhotos, with thanks.     
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